In 2014 Maija Itkonen sat on a plane. Below was the Atlantic ocean and in front of her was a future as an oat-pioneer, that would start a food revolution and overthrow people's perception of plant-based meals. Of course, she didn't know that yet. Just then, she was a designer, reading a copy of the New York Times. And that's where she saw the article that was going to make it all happen.
Headline: "Fake meats, finally, taste like chicken."
There was a slight turbulence in Maija's head. As a vegetarian since forever, she never understood the idea of faking meat. And when was "taste like chicken" ever a good thing?
Sure, it's admirable that food companies strive to make better plant-based protein. The planet is on it's knees, largely because of the meat industry's emissions and reckless hunt for new farmlands. Food-related deceases are becoming epidemic and the animals don't feel too good either.
Indeed, every meal we eat shapes the world we live in. But the quality of the soy, wheat and fungus-based proteins Maija (and her kids) tried were just bland. And if tasting like chicken was the peak of their ambitions, well, the hill they were climbing weren't exactly Mount Everest. Besides, why use products that have to be shipped across the globe?
And that's when the idea popped up in her head: Oat meat.
And immediately after, a name popped up: Reetta Kivelä.
Reetta was one of Maija's best friends from high school. Since then she went on to become a celebrated scientist. Not just in any subject, but with focus on a specific plant with superior nutritional qualities: Oats.
Back on the ground Maija immediately picks up the phone to present her idea. Reetta's reaction was not the sparkling enthusiasm she'd hoped for. As a scientist, Reetta doesn't believe anything is possible until it's properly tested. And no-one had ever done a meat alternative based on oats before. Because, well, it just didn't make sense. Despite oats being rich in fibres, minerals, antioxidants and having more protein than other grains, it seemed impossible to give a good texture and taste.
But for the sake of an old (and very excited) friend, and maybe a bit of curiosity, she promised to give it a try. Because beside that scepticism in her scientific heart was the innovator's itch to challenge the impossible and redefine reality. Besides, she too saw a need for a new meat alternative in her everyday life, struggling to feed her vegetarian teenagers with something more exciting than lentils.
With the hours and days spent in the lab, the scepticism faded as the trials showed results. With all her knowledge of oats she knew what to look for that apparently everyone else had missed. And it didn't take long before she was convinced of Maija's idea.
Through their contacts at the university they got connected with a professor in China who know of a factory in the middle of nowhere that could possibly maybe be something like what they were looking for. It was worth a shot.
With a few bags of flour they got on a plane and went to the remote factory. Inspired by their technique of soy processing, Reetta and Zhong-Qing prepped the machines with their own stuff. The workers, of course, thought they were crazy. But the result that came out was, if not the perfect "oat-meat", at least very promising.
With the flour replaced with pieces of machinery that made customs officers ask weird questions, they went back to Helsinki and built a prototype in the university lab. But it didn't take long before they outgrew the lab and rented an old cake bakery. This came to be their playground, where ideas, oats and technology was pushed to their limits, fuelled by a never-ending ambition to out-chicken all other protein, once and for all.
After six months of trail and error, they finally cracked it. By mixing the oats with fava beans and yellow peas they got a product that tasted far better than chicken. But not only that. It also contained more protein than chicken. But not only that. It also contained all essential amino acids. But not only that. By literally pulling the fibres of the oats in the mechanical process, they also got a texture with just the right chewiness and a nice soak-up-the-oil-to-get-crispy-when-you-fry-it factor. All without additives or chemicals.
Turned out they didn't discover the perfect plant-based protein, after all. They discovered the perfect protein, all categories. (It's true, read on and you'll see.)
The plan was to start on a small scale, and put the Pulled Oats on sale in a few Finnish supermarkets to see what people thought of it.
The result: Even a magician couldn't make it disappear from the shelves quicker.
People loved it. And, consequently, the supermarkets loved it. And we (sorry for taking an active role as a narrator here, but this is when Gold&Green Foods really came to life) loved that people loved our products. Only, our cake bakery wasn't built for such a demand.
With our brains rattled by equal amounts of pride and panic, we got hold of a wiped out factory near Helsinki. And within two months we'd turned the empty space into a full-fledged Pulled Oats machine, and could finally deliver to all oat-craving people.
Some of those people seemed to be people handing out awards. Because soon after, we – and especially our Pulled Oats – won a bunch of them. Like these:
Product of the Year, Product Phenomenon of the Year, Best New Protein, Quality Innovation, Best Company at the Helsinki Region, CTO of the Year and Entrepreneurial Scientist of the Year.
But maybe it was a tweet during the President’s Independence Day party TV-broadcasting, that made us realise how big our product really was.
It said: “They used to ask the guests ‘What does independence mean to you. This year was only asked ‘What does Pulled Oats mean to you’”
And though awards are nice, that's not what makes us going. What really matters is that you – and everyone else who wants a healthy, hassle-free and world-friendly protein for their everyday meals – should be able to cook without compromises.
In our lives, there's nothing as important as what we eat, not only to our health and the environment, but to our social lives and well-being. And we believe that if we can let you cook everyday meals that put a smile on your face, and at the same time turn this planet in the right direction, well, then our lives has a purpose.
Just like Maija when she sat on that plane, we have no idea where the future will bring us. But we're convinced that more people crave our oat-based goodness. And with a rocket-style takeoff we have the confidence to set humble goals.
Like: Conquering the world.
Call us crazy, call us oat-fanatics, call us weird.
But whatever you do, don't call us chicken.